Sugar beets from the Midvale Receiving Station of Wyoming Sugar Company were loaded onto trucks for transport Monday to the sugar refinery in Worland. This latest snow storm halted the local harvest again. (Ernie Over photo)
(Midvale, Wyo.) – Just like the rest of the state, Fremont County’s dozen or so sugar beet producers have been struggling with the weather this fall, which has shut down the harvest several times. Monday’s weather also paused the harvest, which Myron Casdorph said is about two-thirds completed in Fremont County. Casdorph is Wyoming Sugar Company’s agricultural administrator.
“We’ve got a good crop and tonnage is very good, we’re getting 30 ton an acre, but the sugar content is off from what is usually is,” he said Tuesday. “Right now it’s averaging around 15 percent, and it’s usually up around 17 percent.”
Fremont County producers planted 1,700 acres of sugar beets this year, which Casdorph said is about the usual acreage. “Since we became grower owned, guys have to own or lease shares to grow,” he said. “So the number is steady at about 12 or so producers.”
One of those producers is Richard Klein, who farms between Kinnear and Pavillion along Hackamore Lane.
“My beets are averaging around 14 percent, and I hardly ever have a crop that isn’t at 17.5 percent. I like to expect 18 percent sugar,” he said. “But there is so much moisture in the ground the beets became diluted, and we went from summer fall in such short a short time, two to three days, the beets never got the message to sugar up. But that’s just my opinion,” he said.
Klein agreed with Casdorph’s assessment. “The yield is excellent this year, but the sugar content is down and the price is abysmal compared to last year.”
Sugar prices received by growers in Fremont County were about $52/ton in 2012, but this year the price has dropped to $40 to $45/ton, according to several USDA reports. Fremont County’s sugar beet crop value last year was $1.4 million.
“That sugar price could be changing,” Casdorph said. “It’s certainly is not the same as it was a year ago, but we pre-sold our sugar so it’s not as bad as some people think. There have been short crops and problems with the sugar harvest around the country, so we could see a bump in the price as long as the USDA doesn’t flood the market with imports.”
That is one of Klein’s irritants over the current U.S. Sugar Policy. “The USDA tries to maintain the prices in a range so the taxpayers don’t have to pay anything, but we’re competing against foreign markets that are highly subsidized,” he said. “American growers can compete with foreign growers, but we can’t compete with foreign governments, and if the USDA lets too much sugar in, the price plummets.” Klein also said NAFTA has resulted in Mexico flooding the domestic market with its sugar.
Now the good news, at least for Klein, who completed his harvest of some 155 acres last week. “It got pretty muddy with the precipitation we received in late September and early October, so I harvested my sandy fields first. When we got to the heavier fields, I spent as much time pulling trucks and equipment out of the field as we did harvesting.” Klein also said he “top saves” his beets and puts the leaves next to the windrows to give his trucks and equipment more traction. “But you can’t stop once your driving on the leaves, if a drivers stops, it’s all over!”
“Yes, it’s been a frustrating harvest, and I feel for the guys who still have beets in the ground and can’t get to them because it’s so wet.”
Casdorph said growers in the Big Horn Basin are also dealing with muddy conditions. He said the annual sugar beet haul from the Midvale and Riverton receiving stations has started earlier than normal. He said Wyoming Sugar typically hauls from the Basin area first, and they did again this year, but moisture from several storms stopped the harvest there. “We began taking the Midvale beets first to catch up to the growers, Then we’ll move back to Basin. After Midvale, we’ll start on the Riverton pile.”
“Agriculture as a whole has struggled with this fall,” Casdorph said.
Photos by Ernie Over. Click to Enlarge. Mouse over for captions.